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New Hampshire's Almighty Executive Council

Updated: Apr 1




A current Executive Councilor is running for Governor, a former Executive Councilor is running for Congress in district 1 and another former Executive Councilor is running for Congress in district 2. What is this so-called Executive Council?


Old timers call it the “Governor’s Council”, but most people refer to it as the Executive Council, and almost everyone outside of New Hampshire has no idea what this government body does – let alone the incredible power that it wields. In fact, most people in the Granite State don’t even know the full responsibilities of an Executive Councilor.

 

As the Executive Council website states: The Governor and Council form of government is unique to the State of New Hampshire. No other state in the nation has two governmental branches as accountable to its citizens as New Hampshire.


Many people, in New Hampshire at least, do know that the Executive Council is made up of five councilors elected for two-year terms, concurrently with the governor and legislature, by their respective districts. These five districts are divided by population with each one containing approximately 275,000 residents.

 

As part of the Executive Branch, the Executive Council has the authority and responsibility, together (yes…together) with the Governor, over the administration of the State. The Council is essentially a check and balance on the Governor.

 

The Governor and the Executive Council (known in Concord as “G&C”) typically meets every two weeks in the State House Council Chambers to conduct the state’s business. 

 

You may be surprised at this body’s list of responsibilities:

  • All state Departments and Agencies must seek approval of both receipt and expenditures of state and federal funds, budgetary transfers within the department and all personal service contracts with a value of $10,000 and all contracts with a value of $10,000.

  • The Executive Council approves the spending of a major portion of the approximately 5.2 billion dollars that is appropriated annually by the legislature.

  • The Executive Council approves the appointments of Judges, Commissioners, Notary Public, Justice of Peace, Commissioners of Deeds and hears Pardon Requests.

  • The Executive Council plays a vital role in improving the state's infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, via management and oversight of the state's 10 year Highway Plan.

  • Executive Councilors make certain that those appointed to the executive branch of state government, whether Commissioners, Department heads or citizen members of the myriad of regulatory boards, agencies and commissions are all responsible to the citizens of New Hampshire and not to special interests. (List of commissions and boards)

  • Each biennium the Governor and Executive Council appoint more than 300 citizens to serve on various state agencies, boards and commissions. The Governor "nominates" and the Executive Council "confirms" unclassified state employees including Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners. They also confirm District, Superior and Supreme Court Justices, medical referees and military officers.

 

As you can see, these are the biggest of responsibilities that in most states in the U.S are managed entirely by the Governor.

 

The Wikipedia description of the Executive Council is a bit humorous because it reads: “The Executive Council advises the Governor on all matters…” To put it politely, this is not particularly accurate, depending on how one defines the term “advises”.  The Governor and Council can often have a bit of a tense relationship.

 

At Dennehy & Bouley, we have two members of our team who served in the role of Liaison to the Executive Council for the Governor. Dick Bouley served in that position for Governor Hugh Gallen in the 80’s and Mike Dennehy served in the position for Governor Steve Merrill in the 90’s. Rarely has there ever been what would be considered an “adviser” role for the Executive Council. It’s safe to say, the Governor would much rather conduct the state’s business, such as appointing his own cabinet members, without the approval of the Executive Council.

 

Fun fact...Ray Burton, the longest serving Executive Councilor in New Hampshire publicly, fondly, and somewhat tongue in cheek, stated “oh, governors come and go, but we Councilors continue to do the state’s business” and “it is time to train another Governor” after a new Governor was elected. Burton served during the tenure of 8 governors.

 

Needless to say, lobbying the Governor and Council on behalf of public and private companies has become extremely important. The Executive Council takes their job seriously and they do a great deal of research on vendors who want to do business in the state. If a company has a multi-million-dollar contract coming before the Council, those vendors, and their lobbyists, need to be prepared to answer the toughest of questions, not just about the contract, but about their history in other states. The Council is not afraid to vote a contract down, because ultimately the Council holds themselves responsible for vendors who succeed…or fail. And the Council despises having to answer for a vendor who has failed the state.

 

If you have never seen a Governor and Council meeting in action, you should. It’s truly fascinating to witness this government body in action.

 

All meetings are open to the public. Each meeting agenda has between 100-200 items.  Every department head must be in attendance to answer questions by the Council on a particular item on the agenda. The meetings last about 2 hours.

 

You may also be interested in learning about the history of the Executive Council, which had its beginnings in 1679 when King Charles II appointed a “President and Council” from the 4,000 settlers in the territory of New Hampshire which had just been separated from Massachusetts.  Read more about the Council’s history.  

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